The Age: East-west road tunnel back on the agenda

The Age: East-west road tunnel back on the agenda (November 12, 2011)
Josh Gordon and Clay Lucas

A controversial road tunnel linking the western suburbs to the Eastern Freeway is back on the agenda for Melbourne, with Premier Ted Baillieu enthusiastically endorsing the idea ahead of a major infrastructure strategy to be unveiled early next week.

After facing criticism for failing to tackle congestion and maintain Melbourne’s coveted liveability, the state government has completed its major projects plan with Infrastructure Australia, with the controversial east-west road link high on the list.

Asked yesterday whether he backed the idea of the tunnel – proposed in 2008 by Infrastructure Australia chair Sir Rod Eddington – Mr Baillieu said: ”Yeah, you bet. We’ve always been supportive of an east-west link.” But Mr Baillieu said the real challenge would be finding the funding, with the plan almost certainly to involve a tollway and private operator.

”We want to set them out and get them right and get them correctly planned and that’s what we are embarking upon and I’ve had many of those discussions myself with Infrastructure Australia and I think they understand that and they support the position that we’ve taken.”

Sir Rod, who was commissioned by the former Brumby government to examine transport options, this week said he believed the project should be a priority, saying the private sector would ”very definitely be interested in participating”. ”We have demonstrated here that good toll roads work and we should build more of them,” Sir Rod told the Committee for Melbourne.

The state government faced strong criticism earlier this year for being one of the only states that failed to submit a list of proposals to Infrastructure Australia for independent assessment. The Age revealed in June that Treasurer Kim Wells has ordered his department to urgently get to work on an infrastructure plan after being warned the state is at risk of losing investment and skilled workers to NSW and Queensland.

Other projects that could be considered include a metro rail tunnel from Footscray to St Kilda Road and a ”missing link” connection between the Metropolitan Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway.

Julianne Bell is secretary of the Protectors of Public Lands, a grouping of parks and environment associations that in 2008 organised ferocious opposition to the road tunnel proposal floated by Sir Rod.

Yesterday, Ms Bell said the new freeway had been evaluated at length by the previous government and they had decided against it. ”Even if you think this road tunnel is a good idea – and it is not a good idea, it is a dud – there is no money anyway. The funding has to be obtained from Infrastructure Australia, and because no cost-benefit analysis will ever show that this is a good economic idea, the money will never be there.”

She said any plan to extend a freeway from CityLink to the Eastern Freeway would jeopardise the Baillieu government’s promise of a rail line to Doncaster.

However, road groups said yesterday that both – Sir Rod’s 2008 plan for an 18-kilometre tunnel from the Port of Melbourne to the Eastern Freeway and a rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield – were both desperately needed projects. ”The east-west [road] tunnel and the metro rail tunnel … will make an entire difference to roads and public transport travel,” said Brian Negus, the RACV’s public policy general manager.